Beyond the Post-Conflict Checklist: Linking Peacebuilding and Transitional Justice through the Lens of Critique

Article excerpt


While historically seen as being in competition with the demands of peace, transitional justice is increasingly accepted as an important element of post-conflict peacebuilding. Along with the demobilisation and disarmament of ex-combatants, security sector reform, rule of law programs, and elections, it has now joined a virtual checklist of initiatives to be carried out in post-conflict countries. The growing sense of shared space between transitional justice and post-conflict peacebuilding initiatives has sparked new interest in sounding out potential connections between both fields. Although the pursuit of synergies is a worthwhile goal, I argue that in developing these connections we must also be attentive to mutual shortcomings. Transitional justice and post-conflict peacebuilding have historically proceeded on separate tracks, yet there has been a remarkable similarity in the critiques and concerns that have been leveled against both fields. More integrated approaches to peacebuilding and transitional justice may exacerbate some of the tendendes that have given rise to these parallel critiques rather than alleviate them. Seeking synergies through the optics of these historic concerns and critiques could be one technique of resistance to these tendencies, leading to the development of innovative techniques for building peace with justice in conflict's wake.

Table of Contents

I. Introduction .......... 166

II. Origins and Growth of Peacebuilding and Transitional Justice .......... 171

A. The Growth and Expansion of Peace Operations .......... 171

B. Transitional Justice: From the Exception to the Mainstream .......... 174

III. Parallel Critiques of Peacebuilding and Transitional Justice .......... 178

A. The Critique of Liberal International Peacebuilding .......... 179

B. Politics as Neutral Technology .......... 182

C. The "Local" versus the "International" .......... 183

IV. Building Linkages between Peacebuilding and Transitional Justice .......... 185

A. Acknowledging Both Tensions and Complementarity .......... 186

B. Building Linkages through the Lens of Critique .......... 191

V. Conclusion .......... 195


Since the end of the Cold War, programs and interventions associated with both international peacebuilding and transitional justice have increasingly followed in war's wake.1 Today, there is a growing demand for post-conflict peacebuilding initiatives, partly for humanitarian reasons, and partly for strategic reasons arising out of the conceptualization of failed and conflict states as a global security issue.2 At the same time, the growth of transitional justice practices may be creating a "justice cascade," a new global norm of accountability that helps give rise to new trials and truth commissions year after year.3 More and more, the question is not whether there will be some kind of justice in the aftermath of conflict, but what the timing, modalities, and sequencing might be.4

In the post-conflict context, transitional justice and peacebuilding initiatives often share the same temporal and geographic space, and several United Nations (UN) peace operations have been given a mandate to address transitional justice as well as more general peacebuilding activities.5 Despite this, peacebuilding and transitional justice have not always been seen as part of the same enterprise,6 and linkages between them have not generally received a great deal of attention by scholars.7 Indeed, despite proximities of time and space, there has historically been little coordination between traditional pillars of post-conflict peacebuilding, such as the demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration (DDR) of excombatants, security-sector reform (SSR), and transitional justice initiatives.8

There are signs that this historic, separate-tracks approach to peacebuilding and transitional justice programs is changing. …


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